Denver Restaurant Week -- the first of two this year -- began in earnest on Saturday, and while there are plenty of foodniks (and restaurant staff) who bemoan the frenzied chaos of what some call "amateur dining week" (and "amateur diners"), Denver Restaurant Week is nonetheless a terrific opportunity for guests to try a new restaurant at prices that won't sink their bank account. The Denver Restaurant Week price, excluding tax and tip is $60 for two and $30 for a solo diner.
More than 300 restaurants are participating in Denver Restaurant Week, a daunting scroll that makes you wonder just where you should go for the best food -- and the best bang for the buck. When it comes to making choices, I highly recommend booking reservations at those restaurants that usually don't fit within your budget -- restaurants that you've had on your wish list, restaurants that, frankly, are expensive and offer Denver Restaurant Week menus that are discounted more than what you'd typically pay if you went any other week during the year.
After scouring the menus, here are our ten top picks, all of which we think will leave you properly fed and full.
Barolo Grill Barolo Grill chef Darrel Truett is easily one of the best kitchen magicians in Denver, and Barolo Grill, a stalwart that had lost some of its steam during a chef intermission, is back at the forefront, turning out remarkably good food. Truett's Restaurant Week menu trumpets four courses, including Tuscan prosciutto with burrata; slow-cooked pork shoulder; risotto stamped with wild foraged mushrooms, broccolini and mascarpone; and, for dessert, panna cotta. This is definitely a menu that doesn't skimp on quality, and you're getting your money's worth and then some.
ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro Chef-owner Lon Symensma come to Denver via New York, and his decorated pedigreed background, not to mention his unparalleled reverence to technique and pristine ingredients, has made him a chef whose every move is one worth watching, every dish worth eating. And his Restaurant Week board is a winner in every way, offering guests six first courses, of which you can order three, including the justifiably heralded soup dumplings, kaya toast with coconut jam and an egg cloud, and his Skuna Bay salmon crudo. He follows those with a second and third course, as well as three sugar finales. And, as an added bonus, ChoLon is spreading the love, extending its Denver Restaurant Week menu through Sunday, March 2.
Fogo de Chao Yes, it's a chain, but a damn good one, thanks to extremely polished, professional service, a beautiful, near bottomless salad bar that goes way above and beyond the usual suspects and an Argentinian-intensive selection of fire-roasted meats carved tableside by charming gaucho-clad servers who know how to practice gracious patience, even during the busiest weeks of the calendar. Baskets of Brazilian cheese bread, platters of caramelized bananas, plates of mashed potatoes studded with garlic and trays of crispy polenta are all part of the deal, too. Dinner here is usually $46.50 per person, so the $60 price for two is definitely one of the best Denver Restaurant Week values, and while Restaurant Week technically ends on Friday, Fogo de Chao is extending the offer through Sunday night.
Cafe Brazil Whenever people ask me to tick off my favorite restaurants, it's a request that I politely sidestep, if only because my favorite restaurant is nearly always mood-dependent, which means it changes on a whim. The one exception is Cafe Brazil, a restaurant that no matter my mindset, always satiates my lust for everything that I look for in a dining experience: the hum of an upbeat vibe; gracious service that's never hurried or lazy; and food that alternately wows me with the simplicity of griddled manchego, or the multi-dimensional feijoada completa, a black ink-blotted stew bobbing with smoked meats and sausages. Neither of those dishes is on Cafe Brazil's Restaurant Week menu, which is the primary reason it stands out: Chef-owner Tony Zarlenga smartly composed a Restaurant Week menu that doesn't include one dish -- not one -- that comes even close to anything on his regular menu; nor is there salmon or chicken, the two proteins that often point to a dumbed-down Restaurant Week menu. Zarlenga clearly doesn't treat Restaurant Week as an obligation, but as an opportunity to think off the ledge and treat guests to all sorts of unexpected surprises.
Euclid Hall "Although our Denver Restaurant Week menu might look like a math quiz, it's a lot easier and all multiple choice," reads Euclid Hall's verbiage on the Denver Restaurant Week website. That's because the bulk of Euclid Hall's entire menu, including the pad Thai pig ears (one of my all-time favorite dishes), Brussels sprouts casserole with garlic-cheddar fondue, wild-mushroom poutine and oyster po'boy are all part of the Restaurant Week menu. And that's not all I love about it: Included in the $60-per-couple price tag is a 22-ounce bomber, including Epic Brewing's epically fantastic 825 State stout, as well as Left Hand's Widdershins barleywine.
Like several other Denver Restaurant Week participants, Harman's Eat & Drink is trotting out the majority of its regular menu, tempting patrons with chicken-liver pate and truffled pork rinds (damn, they're good!) from the starter section; grilled hanger steak and braised beef shoulder from the large-plates category; and multiple desserts, including chef John Little's cake-batter ice cream, which should really be a household name -- and in your freezer...if only he sold it by the pint (or gallon). If you partake in the Restaurant Week menu at Harman's, there's also a reward: a $10 gift card that you can use on a return visit, and Little's honest, minimally manipulated coking will make you want to invite all of your friends for round two.
Featuring vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, carb-heavy and carnivorous dishes, chef Elise Wiggins's Denver Restaurant Week menu conscientiously recognizes just about every diet -- and diet restriction -- making it a perfect choice for anyone who's strapped with a bunch of eaters with conditional caveats. What I like most about Wiggins's menu, which is four courses, inclusive of an appetizer, soup or salad, main course and dessert, is the fact that the chef showcases many of her best efforts: fried, apple-cider-slicked Brussels sprouts interloping with slivers of Granny Smith apples and pistachios; her irresistible housemade zellole bolstered by foie gras; and the outside-of-ordinary vegetarian lasagna pooled in an herb-scented pomodoro sauce.
Troy Guard, chef-owner of TAG, doesn't follow the leader, and why should he? Always the non-conformist who (successfully) marches to the beat of a different drummer and cooks to his own rhythm and tempo, Guard makes food fascinating with his unpredictable flavor combinations and scene-stealing ingredients that often make mischief. Frankly, Guard could have littered his Denver Restaurant Week menu with worms and dirt, and the faithful would have flocked. But he did far, far better than that, stamping this week's Restaurant Week board with beef heart (be still...), prepared Vietnamese-style with rice noodles, peanuts dusted with chile and Vietnamese herbs floating in a bo kho broth; roasted duck breast in a white-chocolate-and-parsnip (see what we mean by unpredictable flavor combos?) puree; and a Moroccan-influenced braised-lamb tagine sidekicked with a raw-carrot salad.
There are plenty of reasons to bask in the easygoing vibe of Spuntino, the congenial Highland sanctuary that gifted owner and pastry queen Yasmin Lozada-Hissom -- also a 2014 James Beard Award semi-finalist -- has been deftly overseeing for the last few years, along with her equally accomplished husband-chef John Broening. And you can bet that everyone within walking distance will vie for seats inside their neighborhood sanctuary before Saturday to take advantage of her and Broening's Restaurant Week menu, a particularly honest, market-driven scroll that's a compilation of everything on the everyday menu. The antipasti plate, paved with slow-roasted porchetta, prosciutto di Parma, fennel-specked, spicy sopressatta, pickled vegetables, housemade mustard and rustic bread is a must, as are any of Hissom's sweet finales, none more so than her unassailable chocolate, sea salt and caramel tart blotted with brown-butter gelato.
More than a decade after gracing a sleepy Lower Downtown street with a vibrant bolt of energy, Vesta Dipping Grill is still one of the hottest reservations in town. It's a restaurant where cosmopolitan verve and-laid back rusticity collide and where the globe-trotting food, executed by Brandon Foster, continues to reveal imaginative, spot-on hits that match the service and cocktail program. And Vesta has added a second week to Denver restaurant week, offering guests a thoughtful multi-course dinner that starts with asparagus soup topped with rosemary bacon and journeys through three additional courses, the last of which is dessert (Spanish milk chocolate bread pudding, anyone?) Vesta is also giving guests the option of adding wine pairings for a mere $13, or wines by the glass for just $5.
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